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582 Book Reviews

another, in excusing and justifying themselves, and in acting, that it seems
overwhelmingly likely that it captures an important part of what we are up to
in holding one another responsible. It is a book that demands a response. If
McKenna is right, the responses it provokes will constitute holding him re-
sponsible, and praiseworthy, for his achievement.

Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health NEIL LEVY
University of Melbourne
Parkville, 3010
Australia
neil. levy@philosophy. ox. ac. uk
doi:io.io93/mind/fzto65 Advance Access publication 13 September 2013

Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian
Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, by Thomas Nagel.
New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. 144. H/b £15.99.
The problems with this book begin with the provocative subtitle, bleeding
into the introductory chapter and its polemical sequel. Nagel just assumes
from the start that modern Darwinism is committed to materialist reduc-
tionism. Then he attacks evolutionary theory, as it exists today, for being
reductionist. But metaphysical materialism and evolutionary theory are logic-
ally independent of eacb other, so the faults of the former do not transfer to
the latter. He thus attacks a straw man. Nagel persistently asserts that pro-
ponents of the science of evolution are materialists, calling this the 'orthodox
view'; but he gives no citations to actual biologists, footnoting only Steven
Weinberg, a physicist. However, even if they did in fact hold that metaphys-
ical position, the apparatus of Darwinian explanation is surely not committed
to it. Nagel just conflates the two questions throughout his book. There is
absolutely nothing to prevent an anti-reductionist about consciousness, cog-
nition and value from espousing Darwin's theory of the origin of species by
mutation and natural selection — and I strongly suspect that this is the ortho-
dox view (it is certainly my view). So far as I can see, even idealism and
Cartesian dualism are consistent with Darwinism.
Nagel thinks that scientists interested in the origin of life approach the
question with materialist assumptions: tbey seek a chemical explanation be-
cause tbey are diehard reductionists. But this is surely wrong: they look to
chemistry simply because chemicals were the only stuff around on earth
before early life (in the form of bacteria) arose. Later traits of organisms
might be irreducible (being genuinely emergent), but the origin of life
must have begun in non-life (unless we think life goes all the way back to
the big bang). Oddly, Nagel says nothing about the actual theories that have
been proposed, such as Cairn-Smith's crystal replication theory or the idea

Mind, Vol. 122 . 486 . April 2013 © Mind Association 2013

and so on. which adds some clarity. He counts it against any Mind. Although Nagel makes much play with the words 'material' and 'physical' he says almost nothing about how these words are to be understood. instead of the peculiar local conditions that obtained on the early earth. function. but then much of contemporary physics will not be 'materialist' by this cri- terion. One of his more striking claims is that any explanation of life or mind needs to show tbat these things are probable. AprU 2013 © Mind Association 2013 . In general. adaptation. It is quite unsatisfactory to gesture at 'the spatiotemporal order' as the domain of the 'physical': that just assumes that tbe mental is outside the realm of the spatial. assuming that the course of evolution is held to be deducible from the laws of physics. for which Nagel yearns. display. 122 . Nagel is strangely blind to the evident irreducibility of standard Darwinian biology to physics. parasite. as Nagel understands it. reason and value. Book Reviews 583 (well expounded in Nick Lane's Life Ascending) that the conditions in deep- sea thermal vents were conducive to the evolution of the first bacteria. He also makes the remarkable statement that in his judgment there has not been enough time during the course of evolution for genetic variation and natural selection to produce the variety of organic forms we see today. sex. Tbe middle ground between reductionism and theism. extended pbenotype. Ironically. eye. He talks as if the laws of physics and chemistry alone must explain the origin of life on earth. Nagel is taking reductionism much more seriously than he should. arms race. pointed out by many people from Hempel to Ghomsky. Nagel relies on an overly schematic caricature of actual evolution- ary theorizing in making his very sweeping claims. 486 . He gives no argument or evidence for this and it seems completely implausible (here I would recommend Richard Dawkins's The Ancestor's Tale for a convincing account of how organic forms evolved over geological time). But there are considerable difficulties in providing any clear conception of what the associated doctrines are supposed to be. and one would need to know what all of future physics might contain to arrive at a sound characterization of what 'materialism' maintains. So I do not really know what the doctrine of 'materialism'. since electromagnetic theory is not reducible to gravitational theory (I discuss this in Basic Structures of Reality). is quite robustly occupied by Darwinian biology itself— and this position is quite orthodox. Evolutionary theory is couched in tbe following kinds of terms: predator. Posttilating gravity and later electromagnetic fields already went beyond tbe resources of classical mechanistic materialism. fitness. selfish gene. How are these remotely 'reducible to physics'? Tbe familiar point here is that the special sciences employ their distinctive concepts and categories that fail to map reductively onto the concepts and categories of physics. prey. heart. mimicry. So we already know tbat reductionism is false well before we get to consciousness. Vol. symbiosis. He uses tbe word 'mechanistic' at one point. as well as leaving us unclear how matter is to be distinguished ftom space. Physics itself is quite heterogeneous in its theoretical machinery. is.

mathematics. In his view. it is surely just chance that the dinosaurs were driven extinct because of a stray meteor. Thus: sex. then why is life as a whole? Fourth. and problematic generally. None of these is easy to explain. so the existence of mammalian life as we have it is an accident. talking as if matter is perpetually on the brink of breaking into organic form. But what strikes me is that he does not mention many other things that are generally regarded as problematic for Darwinian explanation and which are frequently discussed. VoL 122 . depression. cognition. This part of his discussion left me particu- larly puzzled. Do we not already have natural teleology in biological theory—in the shape of the idea of function and what is good for the organism? Why does he think orthodox biology is non-teleological? More fundamentally. bipedalism. since it came to assume such a form? Is it not really just a cosmic 'accident' that TV sets came to be? Then why is it different with the platypus? Second. dance. music. syntax. suicide. altruism.584 Book Reviews historical theory that life should emerge 'by accident'. dream- ing. He makes a good case that these things are problematic for evolutionary explanation. so how can it be 'probable' or built into matter ffom the start? The conditions on earth just happen to favor life. Why does the existence of mammals have to be somehow antecedently probable or implicit in matter as such? If not. since it does not seem to include the idea of a goal or purpose. mutation is a chancy phenomenon. his discussion of Darwinian theory is far too abstract and detached ffom the biological nitty-gritty. In gen- eral. so how can it be that its results are not? Third. thus providing the opportunity for mammals to take over. fiction. as a matter of chance. aging. but no one thinks they undermine the overall correctness of Darwinian theory. matter must have an inherent tendency to produce life and mind. aesthetic sense. He remarks at one point that matter must be shown to have a 'bias towards the marvelous'. Nagel ignores the cosmic rarity of life and mind. Nagel's alternative to what he takes to be orthodox evolutionary thinking is what he calls 'natural teleology'. 486 . modal thinking. Oddly. I would like to have seen Nagel explore this kind of theory a little more fully. but again many biologists believe that evolution naturally progresses to greater sophistication and Mind. He seems to mean something like a tendency to organized complexity. but the following points should be noted. It is hard to know what to make of these uses of the notion of probability. as Darwinians have long recognized. but matter elsewhere has no observable tendency to move in an organic direction. especially when it comes to the development of advanced cognition (braininess might be like the peacock's tale). I do not really know what he means by this phrase. theorists try to see what can be done with spandrels and sexual selection. and value. Must matter be cred- ited with an inherent bias towards producing TV sets. Once Nagel leaves biology behind he gets into his stride and has some nice Nagelian discussions of consciousness. as far as we can see life is an extreme rarity in the universe (as is mind). Apdl 2013 © Mind Association 2013 . reference. Jn addition to standard adaptationist explanation.

since it is temporally asymmetric and a general tendency of material systems.iO93/mind/fztO59 Advance Access publication 17 September 2013 Theories of Cognition in the Later Middle Ages. which makes me wonder if he thinks the law of entropy is an example of 'natural teleology'. H/b £80. Aquinas is taken as the starting point. a conclusion. Peter Aureol. a second and principal part. and two appendices: one on Aquinas' thesis about the identity of cognizer and cognized object. but this book seemed to me like a rather hysterical jab at something the author finds distasteful. All in all I found this a frustrating book. The book is divided into an introduction. In his dense. Pp. in which the author seemed to be tilting at windmills and ignoring crucial distinctions. Roger Bacon. Thomas Aquinas is taken as the representative of a species-theorist of cognition. the other one on Henry of Ghent's view of intelligible species. and William Grathorn. headed 'Representations and Realism'. Some other medieval figures turn up as well. Department of Philosophy COLIN MCGJNN University of Miami 1252 Memorial Drive Ashe Building Coral Gables FL 33124-4670 USA doi:io. by Robert Pasnau. rich.00. 122 . The main questions of the hook are whether a theory of cognition that assumes species can still be a version of direct realism. 1997. and whether the assumption of species is required at all in a theory of cognition. Vol. His grasp of evolution- ary theory seemed sketchy and peculiar. Book Reviews 585 complexity (thus eye design has improved over evolutionary time). 486 . At times he seems to mean some sort of anti-entropic principle. Yes. Henry of Ghent. xii-l-330. interprets. a first part. what about extinction and evolutionary stasis? In the end I was baffied. for example. and discusses in a systematic way central aspects of the debate about theories of cognition between 1250 and 1350. Gambridge: Gambridge University Press. we evolved from worms — get used to it. But what Aquinas' view consists in is itself a controversial matter. and Pasnau challenges some interpretations of it. Robert Pasnau presents. and sophisticated book. whether such a theory fosters scepticism. The focus is primarily on pre-propos- itional items which are required for composing propositions: items that rep- resent features of the world or essences of things. headed 'Fundamentals'. There is much about the evolution of life and mind that we do not understand (and maybe never will). Peter John Olivi and William Ockham as its challengers. Also. Mind. These items are called by the technical word 'species'. Apru 2013 © Mind Association 2013 .

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